Local veterinarians warn about dangers of blue-green algae toxins

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- A common algae sparks fear among pet owners after dogs across the country get sick and even die after swimming in freshwater lakes and streams.

"Blue-green algae is also known as Cyanobacteria, and it is a very common bacteria that we see here in our Wisconsin freshwater bodies," said Sarah Bartlett, water resources specialist with NEW Water.

The algae can be identified by its green, soupy texture and distinct smell.

As Action 2 News reported last week, a beach at High Cliff State Park closed in early August due to the toxic nature of the blue-green algae posing health risks to humans and their pets.

"You can treat it, but again, you have to be quick about it. It's basically kind of doing supportive care," said Dr. Brian Broekman with Packerland Veterinary Center.

Broekman says dogs that ingest blue-green algae show signs of toxin poisoning between 30 minutes and one hour after exposure.

"We go out weekly from May to October, and we are collecting samples from 20-25 different stations in lower Green Bay," said Bartlett.

NEW Water is currently partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct data as part of a five-year study. That study not only samples for blue-green algae but also the dangerous toxins it can produce.

Broekman says there are two different toxins that impact dogs in two different ways.

"One will produce a liver disease where they basically go into liver failure. You can have vomiting, diarrhea, bloody vomit, bloody diarrhea, and it can be pretty deadly," he said. "The other toxin can cause neurologic signs: tremors, seizures, and cause acute quick death, unfortunately."

Broekman adds that he has taken questions from concerned dog owners this year about suspected poisoning that did not turn into confirmed cases.

The threat is not over yet. Blue-green algae blooms in Wisconsin can last into late September.

"If it's green, just stay out. It's the easiest way to avoid the harm from the toxins that can be produced by blue-green algae," said Bartlett.

The algae blooms in still, warm water rich with nutrients from runoff.

"We just encourage that people can do their part to help with the excess nutrients in the water whether it's cleaning up your yard waste or adopting and making your storm drains stay clear," said Bartlett.

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